Bethlehem Press

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Council approves new voting system

Thursday, May 23, 2019 by BERNIE O’HARE Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

At a meeting attended by about 50 supporters of dueling voting systems, Northampton County Council voted 8-1 May 16 to approve the purchase of a new, $2.9 million voting system with a voter-verified paper trail. It’s called the Express Vote XL, a 32” touch screen similar to the system currently in use. The sole dissenting vote came from council member Bob Werner.

This purchase was delayed by council to see how this new system worked in Delaware, which conducted school board races earlier in the week. Northampton County employee Amy Cozze was there as an official observer. She told council the machines were an unqualified success. Her endorsement was echoed by a Delaware State election official who phoned in. Castle Point, a Delaware newspaper, reports that county officials in the First State give the new system an ‘A.’

This is an unfunded mandate. Last year, Pennsylvania’s Department of State directed all 67 counties to select new voting systems that include a voter verifiable paper trail, making post-election audits more accurate. They must be in place before the 2020 primary. Though the statewide cost of his change is estimated at $125 million to $150 million, the state has yet to provide any of the funding. The federal government has provided a $342,000 grant to Northampton County.

The Express Vote XL was the overwhelming and nonpartisan choice of election judges who attended a day-long presentation of different voting systems earlier this year. In March, the Elections Commission voted 3-2 (two Republicans and one Democrat) to endorse this system over paper ballots that could be scanned.

Opponents of Express Vote XL, some of whom spoke several times, expressed security concerns even though it is a stand-alone system with no network connection. They also complained that a vote could flip after it is cast, going to a different candidate than the person selected. They also argued that moving the machine would present calibration issues, making it inaccurate. They finally criticized a bar code on ballots.

These concerns were discounted by ExpressVote XL vendors. There is no Internet connection. Testing on the state and federal level revealed that flipping is nonexistent. There also is no calibration problem. Vendors also pointed out that barcodes are common everywhere, from grocery store to hospitals.

Numerous election judges and poll workers spoke in support of the new system. They argued it would be familiar to voters and present none of the privacy concerns or multiple lines that would accompany paper ballots.

In addition to election judges, Elections Commissioner Maude Hornick, a Republican, said she supported ExpressVote XL because she wants no election official to decide how she intended to vote. Elections Commission Chair George Treisner added they are also cheaper,

Trudy Fatzinger, secretary of Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, reported that ExpressVote XL is handicapped-friendly. This was a selling point to Executive Lamont McClure, who observed that 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters have some form of disability.

What sold council member Matt Dietz was money. When this matter was tabled a few weeks ago, Administrator Charles Dertinger warned that the county would be forced to be $20,000 in shipping costs. At Dietz’ request, the vendor agreed to wave this additional cost.